The Earth House in Gujarat, India, advocates for local ingenuity with rammed earth
by Jerry ElengicalAug 04, 2022
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by Jerry ElengicalPublished on : Jul 04, 2022
Bangalore-based practice Design Kacheri has devised and realised an urban architectural intervention in the form of a boutique hotel whose structure harnesses traditional building practices and alternative materials to minimise its carbon footprint. At a time when indigenous building traditions are gaining greater precedence throughout various spheres of architectural practice across the world due to considerations of sustainability, the Sunyata Eco Hotel in Chikmagalur, Karnataka, India, is a prime example of local ingenuity being channelled in conjunction with contemporary design principles to yield a product that from certain angles, resembles an experience centre for eco-friendly living. To this end, the building was designed largely as a load-bearing structure to reduce its reliance on concrete architecture while also making use of planning guidelines from local vernacular architecture to optimise its internal microclimate.
The design team was initially provided a brief which stipulated a hospitality design intervention that would provide the necessary standards of luxury and comfort associated with a conventional boutique hotel, albeit, executed in a manner that placed sustainability as its prime concern. Rising above its peri-urban site along a series of receding terraces, the building that stemmed from this list of requirements adopts earth-based construction in various forms - ranging from rammed earth and mud blocks to poured earth and mud concrete. A strong geometric design language defines the exterior form, shaped by contextual parameters.
Most materials and finishes have been kept exposed along the building’s exterior, resulting in a façade design replete with perforation and elaborate masonry assemblies that enhance the earthy materiality of the mud bricks and granite constituting it. The play between solids and voids here takes place at two scales - both at the level of the building’s massing and through the multitude of jaalis and rippling brick architecture protrusions that ornament the building’s edifices and parapet walls.
Adopting a layout that is grounded in the thotti mane style of courtyard homes prominently seen in this region of Karnataka, the floor layout has been articulated with a landscaped green space at its heart. An organic spatial flow within this courtyard is a stark contrast to the predominantly rectilinear design vocabulary seen throughout the built forms, generating an intriguing dichotomy in the interaction between rigidity and fluidity as well as the natural and human-made.
Even though the building's site is blessed with an abundance of rainfall, Design Kacheri opted for flat roofs over traditional pitched ones due to their ability to function better as catchments for rainwater. The cascading terraces produced by this decision overlook a park adjacent to the site as well as a series of hills in the distance, visually linking the guest rooms to their natural surroundings. They are also a vital element in the project’s complex rainwater harvesting system, as catchments that route water towards the central courtyard, to be stored in large tanks embedded between the foundations. The tanks themselves are said to be capable of storing over 45,000 litres of water, with the surplus being directed towards an open well in the courtyard.
In support of this system, a sequence of natural filters has been incorporated into the design, with an open well placed inside the courtyard to gather excess water. Plunging to a depth of 30 feet, the borewell’s excavation is said to have minimal negative impact on nearby aquifers, permitting groundwater to infiltrate from its sides. Moreover, an eco-friendly sewage treatment system embedded into the design eschews the use of chemicals and energy to treat the water, instead relying on a mix of microorganisms, plants, and gravel to mimic the processes of the natural world, "completing the 'cradle to cradle' sustainable lifecycle," as per the architects.
Over three storeys, the hotel accommodates a range of guest rooms, each bound by the naturalistic material palette that is integral to its core aesthetic. Filler slabs, brick jaalis, jack arch roofs, vaults, and precast hourdi clay roofs have been freely used as measures to regulate the amount of concrete in both the underlying frame structure as well as the entirety of the interior design. Exposed brick, earthen walls, and exposed concrete find a counterpoint in the black stone flooring used in most rooms, dictating much of the interior aesthetic. The principle of keeping materials bare and true is also followed quite fervently inside the building, where traditional design elements have been given a tasteful modern twist. Most of the furniture used throughout the hotel has either been custom-made in cane or repurposed from old wooden and cane pieces - from beds, sofas, and chairs, to wardrobes.
Passive cooling is accomplished through a blend of solar chimneys along the building's south and west halls, as well as earth air tunnels and shafts that allow cool air to circulate between each of the rooms, avoiding the need for air conditioning in a number of spaces. Considering the prominence of sustainability as one of the project’s main objectives - through the design, construction, and operational phases - the hotel also features a solar array, which was installed in a phased manner to meet some of the structure’s energy needs. Perhaps the most impressive feat in the project’s completion is the almost exclusive use of solar energy in powering the construction equipment on site, setting a unique benchmark in the realm of sustainable hospitality architecture within the country.
Representing a holistic take on boutique hotels with an emphasis on sustainability - a key concern in design with the ongoing climate emergency - the Sunyata Eco Hotel proves that luxury hospitality experiences need not conform to the energy consuming models that only probe into the technology-driven aspects of environmentally-conscious design. Instead, it heralds new paradigms in sustainable hotel design that also look to the past to create effective solutions for the future.
Name: Sunyata Eco Hotel
Location: Chikmagalur, Karnataka, India
Built Up Area: 10000 sq ft
Year of Completion: 2021
Architect: Design Kacheri
Design Team: Chaitra Saraf, Nidhish Kurup, Alex Paul, Niyati Thakur & Kishor KS.
Structural Consultants: Mahija Consultants
MEP Consultants: Capstone Building Services and Consultants
Sewage Treatment Plant: ECOSTP
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